December 23, 2015 Edition

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JPs remove bonuses from 2016
budget, 911 ends year in black

Megan Heyl
Staff Writer

The Dec. 15 Quorum Court meeting began with tension as justices sat down to vote on the 2016 budget, including issues pertaining to the legality of bonuses for the quorum court members.

County Judge Dale Freeman opened the meeting with the following statement to justices: "You have voting power, and I've got the veto power. I'm not about breaking laws."

However, the only veto Freeman said he would issue that night had nothing to do with the budget, but instead was directed at the recommendation to form several committees for the county.

In regards to the budget, justices voted 8-1 with Doug Wayland being the one against a motion made by Lloyd Clark to remove all language from the budget pertaining to justices of the peace.

Freeman said that bonuses given this year were not required to be returned as advised by the Association of Counties and the Arkansas Attorney General's Office.

County Attorney Dick Jarboe attended the meeting to provide legal advice. He said justices may not be paid bonuses as the Arkansas Constitution states that justices are among those elected officials that are to be paid per diem, per meeting attended. Bonuses don't fall into this per diem pay as there is no day tied to it.

Jarboe confirmed that it would be legal to increase the December meeting per diem, this would allow a bonus type of pay but the payment is still tied to a certain day.

Freeman took affront to this and had several outbursts throughout the meeting directed at justices and County Clerk Tina Stowers. He made remarks on work ethic, conflicts of interest and dedication to the county.

"Are we doing this for the money or are we doing this for Lawrence County?" Freeman asked the group saying it seemed like the justices wanted a lot considering their job is to attend one meeting a month.

Justice Jim Jones response to this was almost immediate saying, "That's not true. You don't think we get the calls? That we don't go out and check the roads? That we didn't go to other jails while we were working on the new jail?" He continued to mention times when he had supplied his own gas for county related trips as well as times when he had worked with Freeman directly outside of meetings on county issues.

While no motion was made to increase justice per diem pay, it was noted that Lawrence County is well below the state maximum amount set for justices' payment.

A motion to enforce that justices only be compensated annually for one missed meeting was recommended by Clark, and the motion passed unanimously.

Another motion made by Clark was the formation of several committees to oversee county budget, roads, economic growth and the county jail. Freeman said that committees don't work as either members don't show up or the committees try to make decisions without consulting him.

Justices recommended that the committees be limited to four so there would be no quorum at the meetings, which would instead be used as time for research and gathering information.

"If we are prepared better we can make more informed decisions," Justice Nathan Crafton said.

The motion received unanimous approval from justices.

"I've got 5 days to veto that and it will be vetoed," Freeman said.

At the end of the meeting, former justice Ronnie "Frog" Light spoke to justices about when he was in office and justices opted to give their payments, $50 per meeting, back to the county. "We weren't in it for the money. We had Lawrence County in our hearts," he said.

911 in black

In other business, 911 Coordinator Peggy Miles announced that for the first time in eight years, the Lawrence County 911 Communication Center is finishing the year in the black.

The center has been struggling to recover from a heavy deficit for several years now. Miles said the improved finances are in part due to relying heavily on part-time employees. However, after speaking with other county dispatch centers, Miles said there is some liability concerns in continuing that practice.

Many of the 911 employees have other jobs. Miles said they are good workers but it forces her to have to be flexible with so much part-time labor. She presented several versions of her budget with more full-time employees accounted for. The court approved her recommended budget to allow for up to seven full-time dispatchers.

Miles said additional funds generated by adding Hoxie to the center will help offset this change, and she estimated needing $100,000 from county general in 2016 to offset expenses, which had already been factored into the budget.

Also at the meeting:

justices approved the addition of a line item in the county road budget for 11 uniforms with jackets and reflectors at $12,000 a year. The uniforms are required for insurance purposes.

County Assessor Farrah Matthews turned in her letter of resignation, effective Jan. 16. and recommended Vickie Slusser with the assessor's office as interim. Justices tabled the decision until the January meeting.

the court increased the sheriff's department budget by $103 as the state minimum for sheriff's salary was not met in the current budget.

the Quorum Court approved the 2016 budget.

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